Monday, May 23, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: Joy and Unity

For the last several weeks we have been looking together at Paul's letter to the Philippians--a letter written to a highly diverse congregation encouraging them to maintain unity in spite of their differences.  We we enter the final 2 weeks of this series, we begin to see specific examples in the church at Philippi.  In particular, Paul now begins to address a sharp dispute between two prominent women in the church--Euodia and Syntyche.

For the first three chapters of Philippians Paul has hammered the concept of unity--an inseparable bond between believers that finds its commonality in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  At this point in the letter, Paul reveals the reason this issue is so important at Philippi.  Two women are in a sharp dispute that threatens the very unity he knows the church needs to survive and accomplish its mission.  And in his interaction with these two ladies, we see what is required if we want to be a unified body.

Reconcile with Each Other.  At some point in the recent past, Euodia and Syntyche had served alongside Paul in ministry, and also alongside each other, but they now find themselves on opposite sides of an issue.  Though we aren't told what the particular issue is, the dispute itself helps us understand two things.

First, maintaining unity and reconciliation with each other are perpetual exercises until we see Jesus.  Because we are all sinners, we will for a lifetime encounter situations that require us to reconcile with each other over something.  Conflict will always exist on this side of eternity, so we must always be aware of it, and working through it together.

Second, the problem between Euodia and Syntyche isn't mentioned, because the problem itself isn't the issue.  The issue is that there are two sisters in Christ at odds with each other in a way that threatens the unity of the body of Christ at Philippi. So Paul says to them "agree in the Lord."

When conflict exists in the church, many times the issue isn't the issue.  The issue rather, is a broken relationship that God wants reconcilled

Embrace Each Other.  A word that is getting a lot of use in our day is the word "tolerance."  Admittedly, tolerance is a good thing, because it helps maintain a level of "peace" among civilizations.  But Paul is calling the church here to a much higher goal than mere "tolerance."  Tolerance is what I give to the TSA every time I get on an airplane so that I can maintain my Christian testimony in the airport, and not get arrested!  But Paul has something much more significant in mind when he describes the relationship we are supposed to have with our church family.  We know this primarily because what he says is filled with the theme of joy.

He tells us to "rejoice" and then immediately follows it up with a warning against anxiety.  All sorts of things cause anxiety in our lives--heavy traffic, financial difficulty, job loss, sickness, and a general unease about the future.  The world we live in provides us unlimited opportunities to be anxious, and Paul's larger point is that the church should be the one place where our anxiety level goes down, not up!

When that happens, the result isn't "tolerance" or detente, its a true "peace" that comes only from God that the world can't understand.  It's a peace that has been promised to His people, but we will never find it until we learn to embrace each other as the brothers and sisters we are.

See the Best in Each Other.  Dr. Ellinore Kinarthy says that the average person has more than 200 negative thoughts a day.  And every religious system in the world has some way of trying to help its adherents deal with the negative.  In most eastern religions, the answer is seen to be "meditation" that involves an emptying of the mind.  But here's the thing:  your mind is never a blank slate!  And since there is always something in there, Paul tell us to ensure that our minds are disciplined to think of truth, purity honor, justice, beauty, and compassion.  "Think on these things," he tells us, and then put them into practice in the church.

Simply put, its easy to see the worst in people--and its true, we are fallen and all of us have some really bad things happening in our hearts and lives.  But the larger point is powerful:  When you look at your brother or sister in Christ, before anything else we should see the image of God.

How will we know that has happened?  One powerful indicator will be when you can look at the person in our church who is least like you and see the work of God's grace in them.

We are the people of God, who have a clear mission from God.  And, we have a peace from God that world can't replicate that is available to us.  Let's joyfully "agree in the Lord" and move forward together!

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